Newsroom recently published an article on the energy needed to produce a loaf of bread. This got me thinking. I spend my time wondering how or what I need to do to reduce my carbon footprint. I found this article fascinating. Here’s a few parts of the article:
More fossil fuel energy goes into producing our bread than the energy we will derive from eating it. Growing our economy requires levels of energy that are physically and geologically impossible to deliver.
Imagine the wonderful wafting scents of freshly baked bread. Bread is such a traditional staple of our diets it is likely we never think about its environmental impact.
Life cycle analysis is one way of measuring the environmental impact of products from cradle to grave. A variety of metrics can be produced, but a common one is carbon dioxide equivalents which represents a measure of global warming potential.
If we examine bread, life cycle analysis suggests that the average loaf in your pantry contributed about one kilogram of CO2-equivalents to the atmosphere. The question then arises whether one kilogram of CO2e to transform wheat seed planted on a farm through to bread in the pantry is a sensible expenditure of greenhouse gas emissions.
Let’s look at the loaf in a different way. The loaf contains about 2000 Calories but based on direct and indirect emissions we can back-calculate that about 2700 Calories of fossil fuel energy was burnt on the farm, within the production chain and at the consumer end to get it to your pantry. Nutritional aspects aside, we can represent this energy balance by borrowing a metric called EROI or ‘energy return on energy invested’ from engineering.
For our loaf of bread, we divide 2000 (energy return) by 2700 (energy invested) to get an EROI of about 0.75, where EROI values of less than one are considered unsustainable. That’s quite a dilemma – in order to eat, not only are we producing greenhouse gas emissions, but more fossil fuel energy is associated with our bread than the energy we will derive from eating it.
The article concludes:
So how do we maximise nutrition and minimise energy loss?
Well, we can begin this process by drastically reducing food waste. We can refuse exotic imported delicacies and eat food that is produced locally. We can eat seasonally. We can get organised and shop less frequently and in bulk for non-perishable staples. We can walk or cycle to our local corner shop for perishables. We can work towards low-input, energy and resource efficient farms to increase the farm gate EROI. We can take a serious look at energy wastage in food production chains beyond the farm gate.
We can eat foods that are less-processed. We can refuse foods that are sent overseas for processing and packaging and then shipped back here despite the ingredients being produced locally. We can plant a vegetable garden and make compost. We can cultivate road verges. We can support local community gardens and food forests.
We can refuse to reinforce a perverse economic system that forces our food producers to behave in unsustainable ways to remain ‘competitive’. We can live as our grandparents lived.
Our economic future has always been painted as one of ‘growth’ within a sustainable techno-utopia. But expanding activities (or even maintaining activities) in our economy requires levels of energy that are physically and geologically impossible to deliver.
To have a truly sustainable future we need to reassess our entire way of life and ‘de-grow’ as we will soon hit the wall and won’t be able to meet our basic needs. Of course, all this assumes we still have a stable climate and functional ecosystems from which to grow and harvest food.